Expert View

Will our next PM join Trump on warpath in Iran?

by David Hannay | 23.06.2019

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

So far the public questioning of the candidates to be our next prime minister – which has been pretty sparse in the case of Boris Johnson – has concentrated almost exclusively on Brexit and on domestic priorities. No doubt that reflects the concerns of many voters. But it cannot and should not continue. After all, the two candidates aspire to lead a country which the government never tires of reminding us is a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, member of the G7 and the G20, and of NATO and the Commonwealth.

It is high time therefore that we heard a bit more about the views of the candidates on foreign and security policy – all the more so since the choices the winner makes in these fields will crucially affect our future relationship with the other members of the EU and that with our closest ally, the United States.

Theresa May’s government has been at odds with the Trump administration over a whole range of issues: climate change, global trade policy, handling the Iran nuclear issue, the role of the UN, policy towards the Middle East, giving Huawei a place in our 5G network. On many of these its position has been closer to that of our main European partners.

Will that continue to be the case under a new leader? Or will it be reversed? The great disrupter-in-chief has, however improperly, thrown his weight behind one of the contestants. He will be expecting a reward – that is his style.

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Some of the May government’s foreign and security policies may survive relatively unscathed. Support for NATO, obviously. Probably our commitment to the Paris accords on climate change and the newly settled policy of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, since support for it crosses party boundaries and would be costly in electoral terms to drop. Possibly also the commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on our aid budget, even though any of the government’s supporters will be gunning for it, as it is enshrined in law and is almost the only support remaining for the UK’s post-Brexit global influence.

Other policy areas look a lot less secure. The UK’s support for an open, rules-based trading system looks a no-brainer, particularly when a “leave the EU by October 31 at any cost” government will be depending on the fragile barque of WTO rules. But will it survive the lure of a bilateral UK/US trade deal which seems to be a kind of El Dorado for Brexiters?

In the Gulf, can we be sure that a new prime minister will not allow us to be dragged, however reluctantly, towards a US policy which seems likely to lead to another war in the Middle East and to the failure of the policy to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, if not the weapons themselves?

And Huawei? Do we really want to be edging towards a posture which treats China as a systemic adversary even if our own experts believe the Huawei risks are manageable?

A bit more light needs to be shed on the attitudes of the candidates towards all these questions if the country is not to be led down a blind alley, as is likely to be the case over Brexit.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Will our next PM join Trump on warpath in Iran?”

  • From “dominance” by the EU to dominance by the US. Talk about becoming a vassal state in the truest sense of the word.

  • War……good idea…..anything to distract the proletariat from real government failures.
    And, why has the big post Brexit national celebration not been mentioned recently? Bread and circuses normally follow a war. Sorry, I’m getting disillusioned.

  • Neither Johnson or Hunt has any status on the world scene. They are lightweights, yet they have the arrogance to believe they and Britain are global giants. The Middle East is a tinderbox and Trump has increased the tensions by loose language and threatening tweets. The situation is crying out for careful and dignified talking, not macho comments about obliterating a country. We all know that Johnson is the same type of character. He, too, is intent on ‘big talk’ to boost his image with domestic voters. His time as foreign secretary was a disaster. I could see Johnson joining Trump in intimidating Iran-it’s a classic ploy. Play tough in foreign affairs to divert attention from the Brexit impasse. We are entering dangerous waters and leaving the EU will make the UK less secure. Johnson being PM scares me to death.